Mindset Dispositions

The Powerful Impact of Mindset Dispositions on Teaching and Learning

There are two sides to every story. We all want learners to become aware of their mindset dispositions and make good choices.

By Doris Wells-Papanek, MEd

Director, Design Learning Network

Side #1 of the Story. Anchored in John Hattie’s (2009) high-impact strategy research, we know that it is critical for teachers to establish positive learning relationships with students using a human-centered approach (effect size 0.72). With this foundational component in place, students are far more likely to engage with a productive mindset disposition toward learning, treat themselves and their peers with respect, demonstrate fewer resistant behaviors, develop self-regulated learning habits, and achieve higher outcomes – especially when engaging in critical and creative thinking.

Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement. London: Routledge, 2009.

From a student’s perspective, what level of impact might awareness
of mindset dispositions have on their learning experiences and outcomes?

KC2016 Design Learning Challenge, Step 4) Demonstration, March 5 KCAI-Hosted Culminating Event


Human-centered teachers demonstrate a sense of caring for each student as a person, which in turn sends a powerful message of high purpose and importance toward learning. Teachers actively listen to their students, show empathy, and demonstrate that they care about them. They invest in their students, see individual perspectives, acknowledge self-assessment as insightful form of feedback, and create learning environments that invite students to feel safe to learn and understand multiple points of view. Likewise, these teachers connect curriculum content, assignments, and learning experiences with similar levels of interest and concern – with clear and appropriately challenging learning targets, transparent success criteria, timely feedback given and sought, etc.

In high contrast we know that students, who do not like their teacher, are less likely to want to attend school (class) much less concentrate, persist, and/or engage.

Side #2 of the Story. On the flip side of Hattie’s high-impact strategies and instructional insights, Dr. Carol Dweck’s (2007) research on mindset dispositions (albeit at times misunderstood) has led to change-making understandings of how students can learn to develop their own belief systems aimed at optimizing their learning experiences. When these complementary parts of the story are linked – students are well-supported, learn how to struggle through adverse situations, become self-motivated and self-regulated learners, look forward to engaging in challenging curriculum, and are aware of their decisions and learn from the resulting impact. In short, they learn how to bring a positive attitude toward school, knowingly take risks and make mistakes, successfully concentrate, persist, and engage.

A growth mindset is the belief that our qualities can change and that we can develop
our intelligence and abilities. The opposite of having a growth mindset is having a fixed mindset,
which is the belief, that intelligence and abilities cannot be developed.

A person with a growth mindset takes on challenges, works harder and more effectively, and perseveres in the face of struggle, all of which makes people more successful learners.

Briceño, Eduardo. "Growth Mindset: Clearing up Some Common Confusions." MindShift.
ww2.kqed.org, 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

There is much more to be shared on this topic. Students must successfully learn how to navigate both growth and fixed mindset dispositions – knowing when to push and pull. Life in the real-world requires us to be flexible and adapt our dispositions depending on the context we are in. At times it is necessary to choose to have a fixed mindset as we move forward to apply and transfer new understandings into sometimes messy everyday experiences.

Let’s legitimize the fixed mindset. Let’s acknowledge that (1) we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, (2) we will probably always be, and (3) if we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed-mindset thoughts and deeds.

Dweck, Carol. "Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset
Education Week. 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

10 Insightful Inquiries into Mindset Dispositions

Teacher Inquiries

1)     How might teachers become aware of the impact their mindset and habits of mind have on students?

2)     How might teachers intentionally praise students for hard work and use effective habits of mind?

3)     How might teachers engage students in exploring effective ways to working, studying, and learning?

4)     How might teachers invite students to become more self-regulated by making learning more visible?

5)     How might teachers better prepare students to transfer what they are learning into the real world?

Student Inquiries

6)     Do students believe intelligence and abilities can be developed, or is it fixed and can’t be changed?

7)     Do learners view hard work and increased effort as a worthwhile investment, or a waste of time?

8)     Are disposition-aware learners more prepared to problem-solve when failures or dilemmas arise?

9)     When students hear useful but negative comments, do they learn from critical feedback or ignore it?

10)  Are students threatened by a peer’s success, or are they open to learn from the situation?